This section of mast shows the hugely destructive power of solid shot – cannonballs – when fired at close quarters.
Visitors today see HMS Victory equipped with wrought-iron lower masts. These masts are important artefacts in their own right – they were originally manufactured for use in HMS Shah in the 1870s. They were placed into Victory in 1893 and have been in the ship ever since – some 120 years.
The masts carried by Victory during her seagoing career were ‘made’ masts – they were assembled from a number of pieces of timber and held together by rope wooldings and later, iron hoops. It is a section of this type of mast that visitors can see displayed on the middle gun deck today. During the Battle of Trafalgar, all of Victory’s masts were badly damaged and required complete replacement when she returned to Chatham.
This section of foremast was preserved during the repair works that took place in early 1806. The hole in the mast passes cleanly through at the thickest part of the timber – about 80cm. It was probably caused by an 18pdr gun fired from the lower deck of the French ship Redoubtable. It was a seaman on the same ship who fired the fatal shot which resulted in the death of Vice-Admiral Nelson.
This mast is also able to reveal new information about how Victory appeared at the time of the battle. A current study of the paint fragments to be found on this mast is underway with a view to establishing the original colour scheme. We hope also to learn more about the mast through dendrochronology – the use of tree rings to establish dates.